Director - Ted Post
Cast - Anjanette Corner, Ruth Roman, Marianna Hill
Country of Origin - Australia
Discs - 1
Distributor - Severin Films
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
Date - 07/16/14
The Film: 4/5
Note: Most of this portion is taken from my review of an earlier DVD edition of the movie from 2011. The A/V quality is different on this release and that section has been adjusted to reflect what upgrades are offered here.
Los Angeles social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer, Guns for San Sebastien) has just taken on the most unusual assignment of his career; arriving at the home of the tight-knit Wadsworth clan she is greeted by the blowsy Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman, Day of the Animals) and her sexy but strange daughters Germaine (Marianna Hill, High Plains Drifter) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor, Get to Know Your Rabbit). But the person Ann has really come to see is Mrs. Wadsworth’s son, a man known only as “Baby” (David Manzy, The World’s Greatest Athlete) due to the fact that he never grew beyond infancy mentally even as he did physically. Ann quickly grows fond of Baby and seems to want to help him reach his full potential but for some unknown reason Mrs. Wadsworth and her daughters won’t have any of it. Worst still they’re starting to view Ann as a threat to their odd familial harmony and are prepared to deal with the problem even if it means murder. But Ann, who is haunted by a tragic accident that befell her husband and she blames herself for, has a few surprises in store herself. The growing tension between her and the Wadsworths soon escalates into a confrontation that will defy your expectations and possibly melt your brain.
I knew very little about The Baby when I first sat down to watch it after receiving Severin's inaugural DVD edition three years ago, but I have to say it definitely threw me for a loop most of the time. Then again a movie that features as one of its characters a fully-grown man who still thinks he is an infant and that is not the most unusual part of it tends to have that effect on me. I was hooked by its sordid tale of twisted family psychodrama and sexual obsession from the very beginning thanks to solid, colorful direction by Ted Post (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Magnum Force) and an unpredictable script by Abe Polsky (Rebel Rousers) that throws formula into the proverbial wood-chipper and charts a fast-paced course into some wonderfully deranged storytelling terrain. It’s the kind of movie that was destined to be a cult film and for most of its running time the one film that continuously came to my mind as I was watching The Baby was Jack Hill’s legendary gonzo family saga Spider Baby. The two movies seem to share more than a few plot elements, but Post’s feature is its own beast indeed. Plus it has a lot more polyester.
Despite its overabundance of weirdness the movie never descends into absurd comedy or pointless camp. The screenplay, direction, and acting plays it straight with the material so while the movie can often be bizarre there’s a realism to the proceedings. Granted we’re not exactly talking Terrence Malick here but as the story unfolds you get a greater insight to each character until by the end it all makes a weird kind of sense. The acting is key here and for the most part it’s good. Comer makes for a strong yet vulnerable heroine whose motivation for wanting to protect Baby from his horrendous family is shrewdly concealed until the finale. Veteran actress Roman gives her bonkers mother Mrs. Wadsworth just the right amount of insane villainy without ever going over the top, and the same can be said for Hill and Zenor as her gorgeous but extremely malicious daughters. Michael Pataki, best known to Rocky IV fans as the hateful Russian Nicloi Koloff but who will always be the voice of Ren & Stimpy’s cruel occasional owner George Liquor (American!), puts in a brief but amusing appearance as a sleazy suitor of Alba’s. There is another interesting performance by Beatrice Manley as Ann’s caring mother-in-law. For the first two acts she sort of floats through the story, only interacting with Comer here and there, but towards the end her real part in this dark tale is revealed.
When Severin first released The Baby on DVD three years ago they really went the extra mile with the video and audio presentation by going back to the original film negative and offering up a full restoration. Picture quality for the Blu-ray appears to have been upconverted in 1080p high-definition and the film is presented in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, as opposed to the 1.66:1 framing of the DVD edition (though both versions were slightly compressed from the original 1.85:1 theatrical exhibition ratio). The moderate grain content from the DVD transfer has been preserved in order to maintain the faded family photograph appearance of the cinematography by Michael D. Margulies (Dirty Mary Crazy Larry). Print damage is very minimal and for the most part is hardly noticeable. The English 2.0 LPCM mono soundtrack is a terrific recreation of the original theatrical sound mix and bolsters the swift dialogue scenes and the eerie score by Gerald Fried, who composed the music for Stanley Kubrick’s first four films along with numerous other films and television shows. No subtitles have been included.
Bonus features have been ported directed from the 2011 DVD and are slim, but what we are presented with on this disc is well worth at least one watch. The main features are a pair of audio interviews with director Post (20 minutes) and star David Manzy, now going by the name David Mooney (12 minutes). The interview with Post is illustrated by clips from the film and the director gives us a nice overview of his involvement with The Baby. Mooney talks about his approach to playing the role of Baby and also reveals that he’s now a teacher living in Texas. Finally we have the original theatrical trailer. Trailers for related Severin releases Psychomania, In the Folds of the Flesh, and Horror Express were included on the previous DVD but were not retained for this release.
I would recommend The Baby to anyone looking for a good bit of psychotronic cinema from the decade that gave us some of the most original and joyfully insane B-movies ever to grace theater screens. At a running time of 84 minutes it’s a sleazy and uncomfortable rollercoaster ride that makes spending time with your weird relatives seem like a cake walk in comparison. The Severin Blu-ray comes highly recommended.